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US Bill Strengthens Antigua Case says Lawyer

The key lawyer for Antigua and Barbuda in its ongoing case against the US Government after the online gaming saga has said a Federal US Bill to regulate online gaming strengthens the Caribbean country’s case.

Ireland-based lawyer Mark Mendel referred to the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act, which was introduced by Congressman Peter King last month. If passed, the bill would see online gaming legalised throughout the US, and would also allow states such as Nevada and Delaware to continue offering online gaming services.

The case between the two nations has been under the World Trade Organisation after the US Government barred its financial institutions from processing online payments to gaming companies outside the country. This adversely affected the small Caribbean nation, which was a base for many online poker companies that had a large US clientele base.

Mr Mendel said the bill shows that the US Government does not have a leg to stand on with regards to the decade long case between it and Antigua and Barbuda.

“This is of considerable benefit to us … It vindicates what we have said all along. Now that they are moving in that direction themselves, forcefully…that pretty much completely takes away their formal defense at the WTO,” he said. “Different countries (are) standing up and telling the Americans that they have to comply with the rulings and negotiate with us fairly. I think it has made a very big difference in that regard.”

In 2007, a panel of arbitrators at the WTO ruled in favour of Antigua and Barbuda’s bid to impose sanctions on the US up to a limit of $21 million per year. That did not do much to help the country in recovering from the decline in online gaming revenue as a result of the US Government’s ruling.

Mr Mendel also said that, although negotiation will remain Antigua and Barbuda’s foremost method of solving the continuing case, it may explore its right to target US services, trademarks and copyrights. “We have been as kind and gentle and patient as you could expect a government to be over ten years and it hasn’t gotten them (US) in the mode of actually negotiating fairly. This is the way to make that happen,” he said.

While Mr Mendel expresses a good point with regard to recent US steps to legalise online gaming, there is a major difference to that and its previous efforts to stop US financial institutions from processing non-US based online gaming payments.

The current US bill, if passed, will more than likely see a portion of money in any US online gaming market go to the US Government in the form of taxes and fees. This differs from the situation at the centre of the WTO case, where the US Government did not see any money from online gaming as it was both unregulated and based outside of its jurisdiction.

Whether this weakens the US Government’s defence in the WTO case is a matter of debate. However, it is unlikely that the seemingly never ending case between both nations will see an end in the near future.

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